Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 10: Young stars land in hot water over old tweets

Getty Images

We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

I suppose it was only a matter of time. Time enough for those ballplayers who were young, immature and idiotic in the early days of social media to grow up and into the sort of prominence that might inspire people to look back at their young, immature and idiotic social media posts and show them to the world. That time came for four players this past season.

The first player called on to answer for his old tweets was Brewers reliever Josh Hader. On the same night he gave up four hits and a three-run homer to put the National League in a big hole in the All-Star Game, someone dug up through Hader’s Twitter history and found some ugly, ugly stuff in there, circa 2011-12. Specifically, Hader was found to have used the n-word, liberally, usually while quoting rap lyrics. He said “I hate gay people.” He said some super misogynistic stuff about wanting a woman who will cook and clean for him, among other pretty vile things. There were multiple references to cocaine. He said “I’ll murder your family” to one person and made some total non-sequitur tweet simply saying “KKK.” You name a social media etiquette line that one can cross and Hader not only crossed it, but he totally and gleefully trampled over it.

Soon several others would join Hader in the “oh no, someone found my crappy old tweets!” club. In late July — as he had a no-hitter going against the Dodgers — someone found old tweets from Braves starter Sean Newcomb in which he used offensive language including racist and homophobic slurs. The next day Nationals infielder Trea Turner’s tweets from his college days — primarily involving homophobic slurs — were unearthed. In late August White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech‘s old tweets, rife with casual use of racial slurs, racial stereotypes and, of course, homophobia came to light.

What followed each reveal was pretty much the same. The deletion of said tweets. A cursory apology in which the player claimed “that’s not who I am” while neglecting to actually own up to the fact that that was, at the very least, who he was not so long ago. They then each got league-mandated sensitivity training and participation in diversity initiatives.

Despite how insufficient these apologies were, — all of these guys want credit for who they claim to be in their heart-of-hearts while being absolved of what they actually did — the baseball world, predictably and immediately, moved on. Hader even got a standing ovation from Brewers fans in his first home start back. Something tells me that if Hader were black and, rather than having some bad tweets, he took an unpopular political stance, he would not have been embraced so warmly by the crowd, but I suppose that’s a topic for another day.

In any event, by the time the playoffs came around the Twitter business was largely forgotten. Hader pitched his Brewers into the NLCS and it went mostly unmentioned. As far as I can tell, no assessment of the Braves,’ Nats’ or White Sox’ 2018 seasons or looks ahead to their 2019 seasons has given Newcomb’s, Turner’s or Kopech’s Twitter transgressions the slightest notice and, obviously, it’s not costing these guys any money or negatively impacting their baseball careers in any way. Contrary to what so many who are quick to defend guys like these claim, there were no P.C. lynch mobs or attacks from brigades of social justice warriors impeding their lives or livelihoods in the slightest way. They were all fended off, it seems, by a team-written “I’m sorry if I offended anyone, that’s not who I am” statement.

Whatever the case, one figures that this will be the end of this sort of mini-scandal. I mean, while it was perhaps understandable for Hader to be burned by something old and dumb he once tweeted since it was an unprecedented situation in baseball circles, it’s hard to get your brain around other players’ tweets coming to light. After all, if you’re a public figure like that and you see the sort of heat Hader’s moronic tweets bought him, wouldn’t you simply delete every tweet you ever made? God knows if I was the agent of young players or their general manager I’d tell them to do so. Maybe Newcomb, Turner and Kopech were slow to mash that delete button, but by now you figure everyone else has.

Then again, that takes a little bit of sense, and the sorts of guys who would spew racist and homophobic crap in a public forum already have a lack of that to begin with, right? Maybe a ballplayer who is caught saying racist stuff is being honest when they say “that’s not who I am,” but most of us retain a whole heck of a lot more of our younger selves than we care to admit. Perhaps that whole “I should delete my old tweets” thing has fallen through the cracks for a few players.

Royals’ John Sherman optimistic about new ballpark, current team

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The first thing that Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman thinks about when he wakes up each morning is how the club, stuck in what seems like an interminable rebuild, will play on that particular day.

Not where they will play four or five years down the road.

Yet given the modest expectations for a team that lost nearly 100 games a year ago, it makes sense many Royals fans are just as interested – quite possibly more so – in the plans for a downtown ballpark than whether infielder Bobby Witt Jr. can double down on his brilliant rookie season or pitcher Brady Singer can truly become a staff ace.

That’s why Sherman’s second thought probably moves to the downtown ballpark, too.

“This is a huge decision, and I look at it as maybe the most important decision we’ll make as long as we have the privilege of stewarding this team,” Sherman said before the Royals held a final workout Wednesday ahead of opening day. “I’m probably as anxious as you to get moving on that, but it’s a complicated process.”

The Royals have called Kauffman Stadium home since the sister to Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, opened 50 years ago next month.

And while most stadiums are replaced because they have become outdated, the unique, space-aged look of Kauffman Stadium – built during an era in which teams trended toward impersonal, multisport concrete donuts for their homes – remains beloved by Royals fans and visitors alike.

The problem is that despite numerous renovations over the years, the very concrete holding the ballpark together has begun to crumble in places. The cost simply to repair and maintain the ballpark has become prohibitive.

So with the decision essentially made for them to build an entirely new stadium, the Royals revealed plans to build an entire development in the same mold of The Battery Atlanta, where the Braves built Truist Park, and the Ballpark Village in St. Louis, where the new Busch Stadium is merely the centerpiece of a whole entertainment district.

No site has been secured, but several of the most promising are in downtown Kansas City, where the Power & Light District along with T-Mobile Center have spearheaded a successful era of urban renewal.

Sherman has said that private funds would cover the majority of the stadium cost and the entire village, each carrying a price tag of about $1 billion.

But if any public funding will be used, as it was to build and maintain Kauffman Stadium, then it would need to be voted upon, and the earliest that it could show up on a ballot would be August.

“You look at Atlanta, they took some raw ground – they started with 85 acres – and that has been a complete home run,” said Sherman, who purchased the Royals in August 2019, shortly before the pandemic wreaked havoc on team finances.

“This is one of the reasons we want to do this: That’s helped the Braves become more competitive,” Sherman said of the vast potential for increased revenue for one of the smallest-market teams in baseball. “They have locked up and extended the core of their future, and the Braves are in a great position from a baseball standpoint.”

So perhaps the first two thoughts Sherman has each day – about performance and the future – are one and the same.

When it comes to the team itself, the Royals were largely quiet throughout the winter, though that was by design.

Rather than spending heavily on free agents that might help them win a few more games, they decided to stay the course with a promising young roster in the hopes that the development of those players would yield better results.

In fact, Sherman said, the club has been discussing extensions for some of the Royals’ foundational pieces – presumably Witt, who was fourth in voting for AL rookie of the year, and Singer, who was 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA last season.

“We’re having conversations about that as we speak,” Sherman said. “We have a number of young players that we’re trying to evaluate and we’re talking to their representatives about what might work.”

Just because the Royals’ roster largely looks the same, that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. The Royals fired longtime general manager Dayton Moore in September and moved J.J. Picollo to the role, then fired manager Mike Matheny in October and replaced him with longtime Indians and Rays coach Matt Quatraro.

Sherman said the new voices created a palpable energy in spring training that he hopes carries into the regular season.

“When we acquired the team, we had three primary objectives,” Sherman said. “One was to win more games; we’re working on that. The second was to secure the future; that’s what (the stadium) is. And the third was to do good in the community.

“But the first priority,” he said, “is really the on-field product. That’s what really lifts everything else up.”